Airport Shuttle Bus Liability Under Texas Law
The lack of space for bountiful parking near airport terminals means that shuttle buses are crucial to the successful operation of even a moderately busy airport. These buses are designed to reduce terminal congestion and are generally provided by the airport or a subcontractor for the convenience of airport travelers and staff.
It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to see that given the number of buses, the large volume of traffic around airports, and inherent issues with the shuttle bus system, a fair number of accidents occur every year, which injure passengers of buses as well as other motorists. In this article, the attorneys at Grossman Law offices will discuss some of the legal intricacies that occur when their is an accident involving an airport shuttle bus.
Questions answered on this page:
- What makes airport shuttle buses particularly dangerous?
- How do airport buses operate in the gray area of federal insurance requirements for buses?
- Why is safety often overlooked in airport shuttle buses?
- How can an experienced bus accident attorney help with my lawsuit against an airport bus provider?
Missing safety features in shuttle buses
Anyone who has caught a bus from an airport parking or car rental lot to their terminal has probably noticed several serious safety flaws in airport shuttle buses as soon as they step aboard.
The first thing that catches your eye is likely the luggage storage racks. In most cases, these are little more than metal scaffolding that relies on proper stacking to keep passengers' luggage from rolling around the inside of the bus. While these racks work well during the normal course of going to the airport and back to the parking or rental lot, it is easy to see that the extraordinary forces present in an ordinary bus accident can cause luggage to go flying. This flying debris has the potential to greatly increase the risk of injuries to the occupants of the bus. No one wants to be the backstop that decelerates an 80 pound piece of luggage from 45 MPH to a stop.
If flying debris were the only safety issue it would be one thing, but after a passenger secures their luggage, the next thing they do is take a seat. Upon sitting down, it is usually the case that the seats do not have safety belts. Now, to the unsecured luggage, we can add unsecured passengers into the injury cocktail of the bus' interior.
Part of why seat belts are mandatory in pretty much every other vehicle is that being ejected from the vehicle leads to some of the most serious injuries a person can sustain in an accident. The reason that seat belts save so many lives is because they prevent people from being ejected when an accident occurs. [iparticle id="1"]
As a car, bus, and truck accident injury firm, we see day in and day out, countless lives, which otherwise would have been saved, ended due to someone choosing not to use a seat belt. Unlike the unsuspecting airport bus passenger, at least the person who tragically chooses not to use a seat belt in other accidents has a choice.
Another factor that makes airport shuttle buses more dangerous is that airports, car rental agencies, and contractors view airport shuttle service as a passenger convenience issue, as such, safety is not always the priority it should be. Nowhere is this attitude more manifest than in the poor compensation of airport shuttle bus drivers, who are among the most poorly paid commercial vehicle drivers, as a group, in the country. In addition, these drivers are placed on very tight schedules due to guarantees about how often buses will stop at terminals and parking lots.
It has been over 20 years Domino's Pizza got rid of its half hour guarantee, over safety concerns, yet some airports still imply promises of "buses arriving every 20 minutes."
While many operators and airports do a fair job of putting safety first, there are always bad actors who put undue pressure on their drivers to maintain schedules, regardless of traffic conditions. Employers such as these greatly enhance the chances that an accident will occur, which coupled with the poor safety equipment in the shuttle buses to begin with, means that there is a far greater likelihood of serious injuries or fatalities occurring.
One other factor, which can make airport shuttle buses particularly dangerous is that these buses travel in some of the densest and most chaotic traffic in their particular city. So other than the flying luggage, flying passengers, and heavy traffic, these buses have few safety concerns.
Factors that influence your ability to recover compensation after an airport bus accident:
Given the safety hazards of airport shuttle buses, it is not surprising that, when they have accidents, the injuries people suffer can be pretty severe. Several factors contribute to your ability to collect compensation for your damages. They can include insurance loopholes as well issues relating to figuring out who you need to sue.
Many airport shuttle buses are smaller than typical passenger buses. One of the reasons for this is that the federal insurance requirements drop from $5,000,000 per vehicle to $1,500,000 per vehicle when the bus has 15 or fewer seats. This does not mean that the bus never has more than 15 occupants, since most shuttle buses are equipped with handrails that allow passengers to ride without necessarily having a seat for them.
The problem with this set-up is that with that many people crammed on a bus, many without seats, and almost no one, but the driver, with a seat belt, the injuries that people can sustain in an accident can be both horrific and expensive. Part of the reason for the federal minimum of $5 million is that generally, even a bus with 40 people, there is money available to at least cover the medical costs of those who are injured. However, when 20 people are crammed on to an airport shuttle that only has $1.5 million in insurance, you don't have to be great at math to see just how quickly the insurance money can run out.[iparticle id="2"]
In many of those situations, the people who get reimbursed are the people with experienced bus accident attorneys. An experienced bus accident attorney knows that many times, when there are more claims than what an insurance policy is worth, it is those who act quickest who secure the best deals for their clients. There will always be some well-meaning folks without any appreciable legal experience who try and hold out to secure what they believe is fair compensation, only to find out that most of the insurance money has already been allocated to other injured passengers.
Another complication of airport shuttle bus accidents is trying to figure out who to sue. Shuttle bus services at an airport can be directly overseen by the airport itself, car rental companies, parking lot operators, or even third-party contractors working on behalf of one of these entities.
For example, at Dallas-Fort Worth International, buses operated by off-site parking services operate side-by-side with buses that travel back and forth between the parking lots run by the airport authorities. Most people look at these shuttle buses and can't really see a difference.
If one were to attempt to pursue a claim without the assistance of an experienced bus accident lawyer, or even with inexperienced representation, there exists a strong possibility that you will file suit against the wrong operator. After all, most people assume that if you were in an accident in an airport shuttle bus, the airport must be responsible, right? Such an error, while understandable, would waste precious time and possibly jeopardize the entire injury claim.
Additionally, if the third-party vendor works directly for the airport, a suit against the airport would most likely be thrown out since Texas law concerning airports and sovereign immunity, grants many airports immunity from third-party liability. Basically, if it wasn't the action of the airport or the airport's staff that injures you, in many cases the airport is free to assert sovereign immunity against damage claims.
How an experienced bus accident attorney can help you pursue your damage claim.
As has been mentioned earlier, the lack of safety devices means that injuries from airport shuttle bus accidents tend to be more severe than similar accidents on other buses. Given the confusion surrounding ownership and management of different buses, the potential rush of other injured passengers to try and settle as quickly as possible to get what they can, the legal environment in these kinds of accidents gets very complex, very quickly.
Luckily, experienced bus accident attorneys, like those at Grossman Law Offices, have the expertise to help you maximize you claim. To an even greater degree than with truck or car accidents, legal strategy, bargaining, and being able to accurately assess where your claim stacks up against fellow injured passengers are absolutely crucial to maximizing a bus accident claim.
For instance, if you are the only person riding on the bus at the time of your injury, your legal strategy will be far different than if you were 1 of 20 passengers, all of whom sustained injuries. While some law firms would look at the facts in both cases and just see "bus accident," Grossman Law Offices knows from experience that every accident is unique and that what may have worked best in one case does not necessarily mean that it's the right course for your case.
Over the last 25 year, Grossman Law Offices has helped numerous injured bus passengers maximize what they were able to recover. If you have questions about your airport shuttle bus accident case, or would like to hire us, feel free to call (855) 326-0000 for a free consultation. We answer the phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and never take a dime unless we win.
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